The Evolution of Pop Music

The name says it all. Pop is an ideology essentially representing music that is popular and appeals to the masses. Today, we associate Pop music with the UK top forty and boy bands and Little Mix singing about their Ex, but once upon a time this genre was not so heavily stigmatised. There was a time where liking Pop music did not label you as ‘uncultured’ or ‘basic’, but it did genuinely provide the function of appealing to a mass audience.

The word ‘Pop’ was first used way back in 1925. The term was intended to represent music that had mass appeal to a wide range of people. It was in the 1930s that we see the first collection of Pop Stars emerge onto the music scene with artists like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Even eighty years ago, these stars had audiences of screaming teenage fans and were considered the idyllic paragon of man to young girls. It is hard to imagine that these men singing about flying to the moon with sultry piano accompaniment and romantic lyrics had crazed teenage fans, but it is true.

sinatra 3

The majority of music audiences is and has always been teenagers, and that is why we hear the reference to the ‘package’ of up and coming pop stars. Much like Frank Sinatra, Justin Bieber achieves the handsome male ideal that sings about love and lust. This is because it is considered popular amongst teenage girls to have this kind of artist to idolise, which is why this feature of pop has been obtained after years. Although the theme of love is a constant in pop music throughout time, it has been manipulated to appeal to the mass audience of the time period. After the swinging 60s, Britain became more sexually liberal, and music adapted to this change. Modern day Pop stars take a more lustful approach with sexually provocative lyrics. This is a prime example of the pop ideology and how music adapts to society.

elvisIn 1952 Pop charts were created, bringing a competitive aspect to the idea of popular music. This hierarchal system gave artists a pathway which brought about the first instance of pop music bringing the ‘basic’ stigma. In being top of the charts, artists did what the people seemed to like, which suggests why pop music seems ‘samey’ and ‘uninventive’, as they wanted to maintain public appeal. Also with the growing television exposure in the 1960s, pop stars developed a sense of identity and persona that contributed to the ‘Pop Star’ appeal. Nevertheless, the Rock n Roll rage in the 50s introduced Elvis Presley onto the music scene. Despite his legacy being that of a Rock legend, it could be argued that Presley was in fact a pop star of his time. With the iconic sexually provocative dance, screaming teenage fans, catchy popular songs and huge political and social influence, Elvis ticks all the boxes of a contextual pop star. This type of Pop Rock was influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and how Elvis had such a controversial partake in this event, much like the acclaimed King of Pop, Michael Jackson, who rose to stardom in response to increasing Black civil rights.


bowie2This explains why, as a generalisation, parents are viewed as out of touch with modern music, and ‘old fashioned’ by their children. I was raised in the 00’s with my dad blasting out Bowie and Pulp- clearly not Pop music of that time, but it was for my dad. Through growing up in the 60s/70s, he had become accustomed to these artists as his social norm and pop culture, whereas young people in the 2000s would invariably associate this with a niche, old school pop rock genre. There is also a sense of nostalgia that people bind the music they grew up with to, which sparks the reluctance most adults have with conforming to modern pop culture. Needless to say, the resurgence of pop music from past decades has shown to be a popular movement; for example, Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman’s cover of Something Stupid by Frank Sinatra in 2001. Also, the increasing appreciation of David Bowie amongst younger audiences following his death last year, proves that pop music is not bound by era but by social events and interests.


It is the 1970s that people closely associate with pop- more specifically, the formation of the Boy Band. The Beatles’ melodies and harmonies had a massive influence over how our nation viewed pop music, but more importantly, paved the way for a mass market of male pop bands in the future. The fundamental selling point for the Beatles was that, instead of one attractive male singing about love, teenage girls now had four to fawn and scream over, buy merchandise and dedicate their little pocket money buying records and going to their shows. It is arguable that the teenage girl market is the most profitable and accessible. It is interesting to see that the Beatles are still appreciated today, but in a more musical sense for writing some incredible songs, rather than how they would be contextually viewed as these beautiful men that sing about wanting to ‘hold your hand’ and you imagine it’s about you. Now that we are extracted from the societal context of the 70s, modern day listeners are able to fully appreciate the music of the Beatles. However, with instances like David Bowie’s, it is his entire pop presence that moulds his legacy and enhances modern day listeners’ infatuation with his artistry.

It was not until the 90s that we see the boy band resurgence, with that of Westlife, Take That, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. For those, like my mum, who grew up amongst these bands, it is enriched with nostalgia. But to most modern teenagers, this era of music was cringey and we cannot fathom how it was once pop culture. These bands were a denomination of the 70s boy band, but with less musical talent. It can be seen that the reason for the boy band backseat in the 90s was the growing popularity of the Girl Group. Producers and Record Label owners had finally realised that, whilst girls like pretty boys singing about love, boys liked beautiful girls dancing and singing about sex. Before the rise of feminism, it was the case that these Girl Groups’ USP was their ‘sex appeal’. Despite this, it is undeniable that the 90s era of Girl Bands produced some utter bangers. The UK got a lot of influence from the USA with groups like Destiny’s Child and The Pussycat Dolls, and it was not until the 2000s that the UK churned out some infamous Girl Groups; The Sugababes, Girls Aloud, Spice Girls, All Saints and Atomic Kitten to name but a few. This era of Dance Pop Girl Groups took the music scene by storm and dominated both the male and female market in the 90s to the 2000s. This newfound form of social appeal must have derived from the growing sense of female empowerment and equality in this period, but did not change the sexualising of these Girl Groups.

Bringing it into the modern age, we are currently in the Teen Pop era. Producers have taken advantage of the adolescent television market of channels like Nickelodeon and Disney Channel, and thrown teen stars into the world of pop music to essentially attract dedicated youthful fans. The young people that idolise these stars essentially get roped into supporting awful music simply due to the person endorsing it; cleverly vile. In another sense, the teen pop era of that of One Direction and Justin Bieber is similar to what it always has been, with the Pop Star ideal marketed to teenage fans, but with the artists marketing to a similar age groups to themselves. Also, the advance understanding of the synth and drum machine in recent years has encouraged the resurgence of synth pop, which takes us back to the idea that Pop Music all sounds the same.

The understanding is that Pop is not a genre, but an ideology. Pop music adapts to society and what is most popular to the public, explaining why there is a common motif of love in pop music from the past hundred years, as it has always been a concept. It is clear that Pop is not restricted to simply music, but the entire persona and presence the artists has to their fans. It can be argued that Pop is the most progressive and broad area of music and will continue to be.

Angel Witney



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